Like many aspiring musicians whose paths eventually lead to Nashville, Canadian singer, songwriter and guitarist Lindsay Ell found no shortage of career advice when she landed in the country music capital.
She had started in Calgary, Canada, first learning piano before picking up guitar.
At 15, she caught the ear of Guess Who/Bachman Turner Overdrive founding member Randy Bachman, who produced her independent 2006 debut album, “Consider This.” A decade ago he described her as “the most talented and multi-faceted artist I’ve come across in quite a while” in an interview with the Calgary Herald.
But after moving to Nashville in 2010 to work full time writing with a bevy of other songwriters, she found everyone had a different idea of what her strengths and weaknesses were.
“I was hearing so much from everyone around me that I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted anymore,” Ell, 29, said over lunch in downtown Los Angeles recently, during a week she spent writing with various collaborators.
That’s when good fortune, or fate, stepped in. Two years ago, she met Kristian Bush, of the country-pop duo Sugarland.
“He’s an artist and he’s also a songwriter and a producer,” she said. “He looked into my eyes and understood exactly what I was going through.
“He asked me what my favorite album was,” she said. “I said ‘Continuum’ by John Mayer. I love the way he plays, the [guitar] tone he gets, and the way he writes, using fairly simple language that has such a powerful effect.”
Bush gave her homework. “He said, ‘I want you to record the whole album. The only parameters are you have to do it by yourself, you have to play all the instruments and you’ve got two weeks to finish it.’”
“I’ve listened to that album so many times, I thought, ‘I’ve so got this!’” she said with a wide grin. “But as soon as I started trying to figure out actually what he did and how he did it, I started wondering what I’d got myself into.”
Nevertheless, using programmed drum tracks — “Drums are the only instrument I don’t really play,” she explained — she overdubbed guitar, bass, piano and other instruments as well as her vocals. She met Bush’s terms and delivered it on schedule.
“That was so valuable,” she said. “Making all those choices, deciding what to do, and what not to do, when I finished, I knew where I wanted to take my music.”
The immediate result was her album “The Project,” released last August and yielding the singles “Waiting On You,” “Champagne” and “Criminal.”
The album helped put her on the map of rising country-rock talents, and also caught the attention of Stacy Vee, director of festival talent for promoter Goldenvoice, who awarded her a coveted Manestage slot last month at the 2018 edition of Stagecoach, now the world’s biggest country music festival.
In addition to being an engaging singer and songwriter, she’s an accomplished electric guitarist. Her instrumental acumen helped her land opening slots on tours with guitar hotshots Brad Paisley and Keith Urban.
She’ll be back through Southern California this fall on Urban’s Graffiti U tour, which stops Oct. 8 in Santa Barbara. (Kelsea Ballerini will open Urban’s inaugural show in L.A. on the new tour Oct. 6 at Staples Center.)
Although the experience of recording her version of “Continuum” was intended as an exercise to help her focus on the aspects of making records that are most important to her, when word started getting around fan requests to hear it began to build.
So, her label, Stoney Creek, released “The Continuum Project” on May 25, shining more light on her gift for soul-soaked vocals, confident R&B and periodically scorching rock guitar licks.
It’s not a huge departure from her 2017 album “The Project,” which was produced by Bush. That album also brings a Muscle Shoals country-soul flavor to many of the songs she wrote, some with established heavy hitters including Bush (“Wildfire”) and Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne (“Just Another Girl”).
One highlight for her during “The Continuum Project” was the chance to record Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold as Love,” since Mayer had done his rendition on his album — bringing two of her guitar heroes together into a single track.
To prepare “The Continuum Project” for commercial release, “Kristian stripped off the drum tracks I worked so hard on,” she said with a laugh. Initially, she felt some disappointment, but quickly came around to embrace that choice.
“I think it makes the songs feel much more vulnerable and intimate,” she said. “It was a great decision.”
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